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Why are women more impacted by climate change?

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Women are more likely to feel the impacts of climate change. This is a fact.

As a woman and environmental activist living in the Arab World, I often find myself focused on peace building, development, corruption and human security. I’ve realised that we won’t succeed in making a positive change on any of these issues if we don’t prioritise women. 

Ghalia Fayad, speaking on board the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior. 4 November, 2016

In my work, I’ve seen how women in developing countries are treated differently. We face huge inequality when it comes to job opportunities and education, as well as facing socio-cultural difficulties with basic things, like travelling alone and legal custody over our children.

A recent study revealed that by 2050 the number of people fleeing the impacts of climate change could reach 150 million. 80% of these climate refugees will be women and children. Women who live in rural areas and in the global South – places like Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as the Arab region – will be the hardest hit by drought, famine and extreme weather.

Here are some of the reasons behind this disparity:

1. Women in developing countries tend to spend more time on domestic labour, giving them less time for schooling or paid work. This means that they have less access than men to the land, money, and technology that would improve their chances to adapt to climate change.

2. Five times more women die from natural disasters than men. Cultural constraints on women’s mobility hurt their ability to escape in time. Their lack of assets puts women at a financial disadvantage and make them more vulnerable to disasters. In the aftermath, women are placed in unsafe, crowded shelters, where they face sexual harassment, mental torture, verbal abuse, and domestic violence.

3. Increased droughts and desertification are at the heart of the food security challenge due to reduced harvests and the loss of income this brings. While this affects entire communities, women in rural areas represent 45-80% of the agricultural workforce and are worse off when droughts strike.

Activist protests at G7 meeting in Rome. 10 April, 2017

While it might sound like women are victims in this crisis, around the world, women are becoming positive agents of change too.

Despite the fact that we are often underrepresented in drafting policy and strategies to tackle the causes and impacts of climate change, many women are taking action to protect the environment, their families and livelihoods. Women are often most connected to their communities and family and have a huge, unique potential to contribute to create real and lasting change, even on a small scale.  

On International Women’s Day this year, we helped a hard-working women’s co-operative to shift to solar energy. They freed themselves from relying on expensive, dirty energy and the chronic electricity shortages that came from their old diesel generator. The benefits of solar energy meant they increased their business’s productivity, allowing them to think about expanding further and setting up new food production outlets.

Most importantly for these women, steady productivity now means increased family time, and that has no price.

Thanks to the incredible efforts of a local women’s club, the remote village of Irig N’Tahala, in Morocco’s southern Tiznit province, now has a decentralised intelligent solar energy network with digital distribution. It has given Tahala’s residents a surge in power and confidence by providing them with clean, free energy.

Installed solar panels on roof in Irig N’Tahala. 11 November, 2016

Every woman has a role in helping the world Break Free from fossil fuels and shift to a renewable energy future. By supporting local activism and sharing women’s stories, wherever we are, we can help put pressure on governments to support developing nations and grassroots organisations with climate mitigation. We can help the women most at risk to adapt to the devastating impacts of climate change. Because we must.

Ghalia Fayad is the Greenpeace Mediterranean Arab World Programme Leader. This blog post is adapted from a talk given at the Women’s Environmental Network (WEN) that was held in London on March 22nd


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